Morel Italian Fusion Restaurant

SeeFoon Forages in Morel Soho

It’s hard to forage in Malaysia unless you follow a knowledgeable Orang Asli who still lives off the land. But in other parts of the world where foraging is practised, not just by those who live off the grid but by ordinary folk like you and me, mushroom foraging is not only productive for the kitchen but also great fun. But not without its risks though; for picking the wrong mushrooms can kill you!

I know only of one kind of mushrooms that one can forage in Malaysia and that is after a thunderstorm and these white “thunder mushrooms” spring up in one’s garden. They have a wonderful fragrance and when lightly pan-fried in butter, are yummilicious. Alas, these are rare occurrences nowadays unless you live close to the jungle.

Being a lover of all mushrooms in whatever shape and form, perfumed or otherwise, I now head for Morel whenever a mushroom craving hits me. I remember the first time I went to Morel when they first opened almost two years ago and demanded to know why they named their restaurant after a famous mushroom when they didn’t have any on their menu. This has since been rectified in a big way and mushroom maniacs like myself can indulge to my heart’s content.

Chef Aw Kah Meng, a homegrown Ipoh chef who left for the big bright lights of Singapore in 2004 to hone his skills, has worked his way up the kitchen ladder in many big-name establishments like St Regis, Swissotel The Stamford, Raffles Plaza. More impressively and probably accounts for his culinary flair, he has worked with Bruno Menard, the 3-star Michelin Chef who is permanently based in Singapore.

Initially, after he opened Morel with his wife Siau Hooi when patrons like me were clamouring for mushrooms, Kah Meng ‘foraged’ in Malaysia, looking for suppliers who were able to deliver some of these rarities. He began with dried ones, offering Morel (finally!) and Porcini (Cep); then frozen (porcini) and now he has a source of fresh porcini and fresh black truffles.

Buonissimo I say and let the mushroom banquet begin!

I covered all the delectable dishes on the Morel menu in my review dated July 16, 2018 (issue 285), and today I am adding new menu items which I found delectable.

First off, it’s worthwhile to note that all of Morel’s pasta is homemade and cooked to al dente perfection. So is their bread. The dilemma for you, dear diner, is to decide whether you want tagliatelle, spaghetti or fusilli or whatever is on offer for the day and in what combination.

Here are their new offerings:

Porchini Bruschetta
Porchini Bruschetta @ RM29.90

Bruschetta, homemade apple-wood-smoked ricotta cheese on home-baked sourdough bread topped with fresh French porcini mushrooms. There are four slices in one order so do share; RM29.90.

Pork Belly Salad in Morel Italian Fusion Ipoh
Pork Belly Salad

Next, we had Mesclun Salad with balsamic dressing, runny yolk egg, quinoa, bread croutons, parmesan cheese with slices of tender pork belly contrasting well with the crispy greens; RM28.90.

Mussel and clam soup
Mussel and clam soup @ RM24.90

Mussel and Clam Soup was umami, tinged with white wine and a spicy tomato sauce, the bivalves tender and fresh, served with bread; RM24.90.

Lamb Spaghetti
Lamb Spaghetti @ RM56.90

The homemade spaghetti cooked in tomato sauce, topped with shredded lamb shank, arugula and morel mushrooms, dotted with pine nuts and finished with grated parmesan cheese was a sumptuous meal (we shared) at RM56.90.

Fork-tender Angus Beef Cheek
Fork-tender Angus Beef Cheek @ RM65.90

This was followed by my favourite meat dish here at Morel’s, the Black Angus Beef Cheek with asparagus and mashed potatoes. I have had beef cheek before but Morel’s version comes on the top of my list; coated in a velvety smooth sauce – a reduction from bones (not your out-of-a-bottle spoonful of store-bought gravy stock), the cheeks so soft and tender that you can cut with a fork and when eaten with the ultra-creamy mashed potatoes you have a mouthful of heaven; RM65.90.

Porcini Mushroom Risotto
Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Follow this with the Porcini Mushroom Risotto and I found myself almost rolling off the table from surfeit! Arborio rice cooked à la minute with porcini mushrooms and if that wasn’t fragrant enough, I also detected more than a hint of truffle oil. Add a square of gold leaf, shaved parmesan and you have a risotto fit for a king; RM37.90.

Truffle Coconut Parina Cotta
Truffle Coconut Parina Cotta @ RM16.90

As for desserts, my dear readers know that I am not known to have a sweet tooth but when you put a Truffle Coconut Pannacotta in front of me, a wobbly eggless coconut pudding topped with mangoes, fresh berries and truffle honey, my sweet tooth emerges and I tuck in with gusto; RM16.90. On top of this, you add the Morel’s own Tiramisu (one of the best in Ipoh) and you have the perfect end to a gourmet meal.

If Alex Castaldi, GM of Banjaran Hotsprings and Resort and as Italian as they come, finds in Morel some of the best Italian food he’s eaten in Malaysia, then we can surely take his word for it. In Alex’s words, “I like Morel and am happy to see such a young talented chef cooking and serving with such passion and authenticity. Whenever I visit, I get a taste of home. Go try Morel – definitely worth a visit!”

If you haven’t been, it’s high time you did! And you don’t have to blow the budget to get a taste. They have a daily changing 3-course Lunch Menu for RM19.90.

MOREL RESTAURANT

A-G-12A Soho Ipoh,
Jalan Sultan Iskandar,
30000 Ipoh.

Tel: 010 9287291 or 011 242 02450

Business hours:
Tuesdays-Sunday & Public Holidays : 11am-3pm; 6pm-10pm
Closed:  Mondays

SeeFoon Debates the Merits of Chicken Rice in Ipoh

This week I am deconstructing Chicken Rice (CR) and debating the merits of what constitutes a good one. I know that ultimately it’s the combination of all the constituents that make this iconic dish so-so, mediocre, good or brilliant.

This week I am deconstructing Chicken Rice (CR) and debating the merits of what constitutes a good one. I know that ultimately it’s the combination of all the constituents that make this iconic dish so-so, mediocre, good or brilliant.

When I first moved to Ipoh 24 years ago (yes it’s been that long but feels like the blink of an eye!) I never found a chicken rice I liked. Mind you, I was so busy tasting all the other Ipoh iconic foods that I forgot my homegrown Singaporean rave food . . . chicken rice.

I still remember Swee Kee in Singapore; for me as a child, the big treat and big outing, when I used to stuff myself with all the chicken my little tummy could eat as well as all the divine gizzard, liver and, guess what, they had then – chicken intestines! We were one country then; no question of whether it originated in Singapore or Malaysia. It was our iconic dish. Albeit popularized by the Hainan Chinese and titivated locally.

Today, with some of the ongoing one-upmanship going on between the two neighbours clamouring for recognition on which dishes belong to whom, we have lost some emphasis on taste.

This is where our individual palates come into play. My daughter, for example, judges chicken rice on the smoothness of the chicken, its juiciness, its plumpness; next in importance for her, is the rice, each grain separate, firm and broth infused. Dipping sauce for her is unimportant as she loves the black sauce over her rice.

As for me, my first criteria whether I’ll return for a second meal lies in the dipping sauce. I went once on a chicken rice frenzy while in Singapore and visited five shops/stalls in five days. Only one remains my go-to CR in Singapore today. And it’s all because of the dipping sauce. All the CR stalls I visited bar this one, had added sugar to the traditional chilli sauce and some not even offering the de rigueur ginger sauce with it saying, “It’s already mixed in lah”.

Here in Ipoh I decided to go on another Chicken Rice frenzy and went over a period of two weeks to innumerable places. So these are the 5 Top and remembering that these are based on my subjective palate and some of you dear readers may disagree with me and I would welcome your comments on these.

5 Top Chicken Rice eating places I would go for my CR dose:

Restoran Sam Ma Chicken Rice

Restoran Sam Ma Chicken Rice
Restoran Sam Ma Chicken Rice

I have a hard time deciding on whether Sam Ma (non-air-con) or Pak Kong is the top choice for me for a quick bite. Both have juicy chicken, with Pak Kong being slightly more tender and both their chilli sauce is not sweetened with their minced ginger sauce abundantly available. This I will ladle onto my rice and happily eat that alone if not for the temptation of the chicken. Both places have a choice of Kampung chicken and regular chicken, and the chicken broth in both is tasty and umami. The oil rice in both is umami, each grain intact but well cooked through. The one distinction I would make between the two CR outlets is that Pak Kong is so popular at lunchtime that it involves getting there before 12pm and possibly still queuing for a short while. Sam Ma and Pak Kong: Single portion RM5.50. Each of these outlets has their speciality add-ons so do look at their menus.

Sam Ma Chicken Rice,
3 Jalan S.A. Lingam,
Taman Ipoh Selatan,
31400 Ipoh.

Contact: 017 756 8562
Thursday-Tuesday 11am-3pm, 6pm-9pm
Closed on Wednesday

Restoran Nasi Ayam Pak Kong

Restoran Nasi Ayam Pak Kong
Restoran Nasi Ayam Pak Kong

Pak Kong Chicken Rice
27 Jalan Theatre,
Taman Jubilee,
31400 Ipoh.

Contact: 012 588 6618
Daily 11.15am-4pm

Restoran Hainam

Restoran Hainam Chicken Rice Ipoh
Restoran Hainam Chicken Rice Ipoh

Restoran Hainam has been around for a long time and I have to admit that their quality is not on the same level as the two previous outlets above. However, their saving grace is that if you feel like chicken rice at 4pm or 9pm they are there and ready to serve and it is air-conditioned as a respite from the heat and if you’re hankering for CR. Single portion RM7.80.

Restaurant Hainam
75-77 Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri,
Taman Jubilee, 30300 Ipoh.

Contact: 05 242 8762
Daily 11am-10pm

Haven’s Cuisine Restaurant

The Haven's Chicken Rice Ipoh
The Haven’s Chicken Rice in Ipoh

Next, we come to the “Atas” places for chicken rice, well-appointed, elegant and even worth the drive and trouble of getting in as in the Haven’s Cuisine restaurant. Here the chicken rice is long-grain-fragrant rice; the broth is umami and safe for me to eat as they promise no MSG; the chicken ‘Wu So Gai’ or bearded chicken is off the bone and you can choose white meat or thigh dark meat and the dipping sauces similar to my childhood nostalgic tastes. Alas, the price is high at RM32 per portion. But the ambience more than makes up for the cost. Pork-free.

The Haven's Cuisine Restaurant
The Haven’s Cuisine Restaurant

Haven’s Cuisine Restaurant
Jalan Haven, Persiaran Lembah Perpaduan,
31150 Ipoh.

Contact: 05 540 0000
Daily 7am-10.30pm

*Haven’s chicken rice only available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Sundays *Call ahead and give your car number and time of arrival. This is a must.

STG Tea House Cafe

STG Hainanese Rice Ipoh
STG Hainanese Rice Ipoh

Finally, we have STG, the beautiful bungalow to dine in style. Here their chicken rice is yellow and umami, their broth chock full with vegetables, their chilli sauce and thick ginger sauce pungent with a kick and service is attentive and with style. Per portion RM24. Pork-free.

So now dear readers, you have a choice of CR outlets to suit your pocket and palate. Or if you have the time and inclination. . . try them all.

STG Bungalow Ipoh
STG Bungalow Ipoh

STG Bungalow
2 Jalan Taman Kinta,
Taman Chateau,
30250 Ipoh.

Contact: 05 255 0188
Daily 11am-11pm